No, the subway is not free in Germany. Maybe its because Im naïve, maybe because Im an American, but I tend to cling to the belief that there is still such a thing as a free lunch or at least the occasional free ride. As an exchange student in Berlin, I was flabbergasted to learn that public transportation in Germany works on the honor system, meaning you can board a train, streetcar or bus without having to pass through a turnstile or swipe your ticket. Its tempting to try and exploit that kind of trust, but allow me to impart a few words of warning to would-be fare-dodgers: you will be caught. Schwarzfahren -- which literally means riding black -- carries stiff penalties (€40) and an even heavier social stigma in such an order-obsessed country.
For those willing to abuse Teutonic trust, you will one day be greeted by unassuming, normally dressed men and women. After boarding your train, theyll probably chat casually until the doors slam shut and then one will bellow: Good day, ladies and gentlemen! Your tickets, please! At that point you'll realize that not only are you trapped, but also that absolutely everyone else -- including the anarchist-looking kid whos steadily been putting back tallboy cans of beer since he got on at Zoo Station -- has a ticket. And not just any ticket, mind you, the correct ticket.
If you were trying to ride for free, or even if you just forgot to validate your day pass or bought the wrong ticket, playing the ignorant tourist with a rapid-fire apologizing, eye-blinking technique won't necessarily endear you to the transport employees. To put it mildly, Germany is not a country that specializes in excuses, or in loopholes. And like any law-abiding Teuton, you should have figured out the rules before boarding, right?
Contributed by Hannah Tucker in New York.